ORANGE, Calif. - Nine-year-old Nathan Gallups is all smiles as he walks around the library of Children’s Hospital Of Orange County. He picks up a book about a kid with cancer and tells us "That was me." He hasn’t been to the library in 2 years. "My happiest memories are the gift shop the cafeteria and the library."
He then sees Dr. Van Huynh, his pediatric oncologist at CHOC. He rushes to hug her. "She’s really nice, and I hope to have her for my whole life," Nathan said.
His mother Casey Collier says the family owes his life to his doctor and a new innovative treatment.
"Nathan is nine now, and there was a time that I didn't know if he would ever be nine," Collier said. "And because of this wonderful hospital and Dr Huynh, he’s nine and half and in school."
Nathan was three and a half when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called
Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or Ph+ ALL. This rare type of leukemia is harder to treat, and even worse in Nathan's case, it had broken through the blood brain barrier. His cancer didn't respond to chemotherapy, and he needed a bone marrow transplant from his father, Steven Gallups.
"It almost puts you more in a moment and the day because it’s too scary to think about the future," said Collier.
For three years, Nathan was cancer free, but then, when he was seven, the cancer came back. This time though, Dr. Huynh had a new weapon.
"It’s what we call CAR T cells, or chimeric antigen receptor cells," said Dr. Huynh. "It’s pretty phenomenal."
The hospital harvested Nathan's white blood cells and sent them to a lab, which then genetically engineered them to recognize his leukemia cells and attack them. Within a month he was in remission and still is, two years later.
Steven Gallups said the experience made him so grateful, he's decided to go into nursing.
"There's definitely a piece of me that feels I have to give back to what was provided for us when we were here," said Steven Gallups.
Collier called Dr. Huynh their angel. Dr. Huynh called Nathan hers.
"I was so privileged to walk the journey with them," the doctor said. "What an incredible family. Nathan is thriving and going to school."